My experience in salt began in Bodega Bay in the early 1950's. The fact that salmon and steelhead could be caught there on flies was a closely guarded secret among a few local Russian River fly anglers. The Bodega Bay Shrimp and the Horner Shrimp were the flies of choice because it was thought that the fish were actually feeding shrimp at the North end of the bay. We actually cast at cruising wakes and swirls. This fishery has sadly passed into history with the building of roads which limited the fish passage to spawning creeks.
Later in my fishing career I caught fresh Silver Salmon in the Eel River estuary using the olive version of the Horner fly. There were fresh water shrimp to be found along the edges and I believe the salmon were still feeding at times in the brackish water for a day or two at least.
The larger bait fish patterns have served me on limited times I have actually ventured out into the salt. Off of the Campbell River in B.C., I fished with a guide who would use binoculars to spot feeding birds and then motor to the area of action rapidly. Casting a blue or green deceiver variation into the melee would often result in instant strikes. Just as quickly, however, the fish would move on seeking other bait to ravage. I also, on rare occasions, caught silvers off the beach where the river entered the Discovery Passage. Again, bird action and swirls prompted the quick rush to cast to feeding fish. I tried casting to shallow feeding Silver and Chinook salmon out of Shelter Cove in Northern California. Although this proved successful, the bumpy condition of the ocean water and my innards did not agree, and I retired from this pursuit very soon. My overall impression of catching salmon in the salt is that they are usually still feeding and if a fly that looks like food is presented correctly, they will usually respond with a strike. I wish I could actually do more saltwater fly fishing for salmon....maybe someday.
Saltwater Fly Selection
Mike Foster, has been a fly fishing instructor, fly
shop operator, instructor for Fenwick Fly Fishing Seminars, and writer
for various outdoor publications. Several of his original
flies have been displayed in
the books Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon and Fly-Fishing Coastal Cutthroat Trout. He has generously contributed a number of his flies and his advice for the readers of Salmonfly.Net. His other contributions can be seen at The Flies of Mike Foster.